Healing with Harmony & Beat

5 Jul

A group of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder gathers for a drum circle led by a graduate student in music therapy at Nazareth. Data collected after the music therapy sessions shows that the drumming reduces levels of anxiety and stress over time while it enhances mood.

In other parts of the music therapy clinic, children with autism communicate through chant and rhythm when they don’t have access to words, while changes in harmony help Alzheimer’s’ patients focus their attention during therapy sessions.

Music therapy involves people in music in order to reach non-musical goals, explains Dr. Betsey King, an assistant professor of music therapy at Nazareth.

“We work on communication skills, physical skills, social skills, cognition, emotional life, and wellness by singing, moving to music, composing music, improvising, and playing music,” King says. “We get our patients involved so that some other part of their self is enhanced.”

The Power of Song

To illustrate, she tells a story about a Parkinson’s patient during a test that timed how long it took him to stand up from his chair, walk 10 feet, turn around, walk back to the chair, and sit down. The test, without music, took 28 seconds. Then King, who was teaming with a physical therapist on a home visit, started singing “off we go, into the wild blue yonder” to the patient, who was retired from the Air Force. He then did the same test, to King’s vocal accompaniment, in 18 seconds.

“My therapeutic style is to get patients laughing at me,” says King, “and he was already laughing at the crazy music lady as he started the test. All music therapists know that building relationship is a big part of what we do.”

The Rochester area has the state’s largest concentration of practicing music therapists outside New York City, King says, thanks in part to Nazareth’s program. And every music therapy student also plays one or more instruments.

A Foundation for Health

The new Integrated Center for Math and Science will help serve Nazareth students, faculty, and patients better,  King says. The undergraduate major has 44 students; about 20 people are enrolled in the graduate program.

It will also be easier to do interdisciplinary research about how the brain responds to changes in the environment, for example, or test the effect of music on the immune system.

“Our students were usually musicians in high school,” King says. “But most of them do not have the science part until they get to Nazareth. A new facility is important. The better support we can give our students, the more effective they will be with their patients and the better they will work with their colleagues. If they think like scientists and researchers every day, they will do better work.

“And every new discovery we make here on campus – or that one of our graduates makes – can have an impact on hundreds of thousands of people.”

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